Federal Politics

Published — May 31, 2018 Updated — September 24, 2018 at 9:00 am ET

What is FARA? Understanding the Foreign Agents Registration Act

Jon Elswick / AP

Enforcement is weak. It’s riddled with loopholes. But that may be changing.

Introduction

American leaders have been concerned about foreign influence since the country’s infancy. In his farewell address, President George Washington warned that passion for one’s political party “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption.”

Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1938 to address rising concern about Nazi propaganda in the years before World War II. When the arcane law applies, the United States has required foreign agents to comply with stringent disclosure requirements.

But penalties for violating FARA are exceedingly rare because, among other hurdles, the law says someone must have acted “willfully” in skirting its requirements.

Consider: Between 1966 and 2015, the Department of Justice brought only seven criminal FARA cases, and there were only three convictions. The Department of Justice has instead stressed efforts to encourage foreign agents’ voluntary compliance.

The Department of Justice agreed with 14 recommendations for improvement to enforcement and administration of FARA made in a 2016 audit by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General. But officials have long said they need more resources and new civil legal authority from Congress in order to properly administer and enforce FARA.

There are “huge gaps in what is being disclosed in general and certainly a lack of timely disclosures on a uniform basis” under the law, said Joshua Rosenstein, a lawyer with the firm Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock and an expert on the foreign agent statute. Even lawyers who specialize in the law say its requirements can be confusing.

FARA legislation pending in Congress would offer government officials more resources and authority. It would also end one of the most commonly used exemptions — registering under the less cumbersome Lobbying Disclosure Act — foreign agents use to avoid FARA.

But the bill’s prospects are uncertain. Members of Congress sponsoring the FARA reform bills did not respond to a request for comment. The White House declined to comment.

Last year, in what amounts to the highest-profile FARA prosecution in decades, Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, with FARA violations in connection with Manafort’s work in Ukraine. Manafort’s lawyer described the FARA charges as “a very novel theory.”

Most lobbyists would have previously put the odds of federal officials levying such charges as roughly akin to a significant April snowfall in Washington, D.C. — theoretically possible, but barely more than that.

That changed with Manafort’s indictment.

In client advisories, FARA lawyers — the ultimate noodges — have been warning of a more aggressive enforcement posture at the Department of Justice. And many of the private lawyers doing FARA work — a group small enough, a Covington & Burling advisory wryly notes, to “hold its meetings in the back of a mini-van” — say they are seeing more assertive questions from the Department of Justice. They’re also enjoying a business boomlet.

This month, Robert Kelner of Covington & Burling, a longtime FARA practitioner, wrote that the Department of Justice has begun telling recipients of department advisory opinions that it will “soon” publish copies of such advisory opinions publicly, something called for in the 2016 audit.

Those opinions lay out the department’s interpretation of FARA requirements, and are likely to lay out the agency’s answer to at least some questions about recurring FARA issues such as the use of exemptions.

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Martin Shellabarger
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J. Stevenson, what are you drinking? Trump has more lobbyists in his administration than probably any other president. Trump is totally “for sale”, and the corporations know it. Grow a brain!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.